I am just going to come right out and say it: I like being naked. I didn’t used to feel this way; at school I dreaded the obligatory communal showers after rugby, feeling incredibly self-conscious and inadequate (although, to be fair, that’s pretty much how I felt throughout my teenage years, whether I was dressed or not). No, it wasn’t until much later that I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin.
It all began, like most of the fun things in life, with a drunken night out with my best mate, when we were in our early twenties. Pub closing time was fast approaching, and we were nearing the end of our drinks. What shall we do now? he asked. Let’s toss a coin, I heard myself say, and if it lands on heads then we have to jump in the river!
It was a joke…
I was joking; he had been going through a rough time after a serious relationship ended, and I thought this would make him laugh. But much to my surprise, he took my suggestion seriously, said Alright and then proceeded to throw a 10p coin in the air. It landed heads up. He downed what was left of his drink, and said Right, let’s go then.
We were unusually quiet during the short walk to the river, which was handily concealed among trees, bushes and meadow. I remember thinking What are we doing? and didn’t quite believe that we were going to go through with it. We got there, and found a spot by an accessible bank, in the dark.
We turned away from each other and started to take our clothes off. We hadn’t seen each other naked since childhood. I shyly undressed, and then stepped down into the cold water. It wasn’t deep enough to swim, it barely came up to my knees. My best mate climbed down next, laughing; Are you starkers? he asked. He’d kept his underwear on, not considering for a moment that we’d go in naked.
Instead of feeling embarrassed, I felt liberated and didn’t care. While he was trying not to get too wet, I splashed around, laughing, enjoying the sensation of being naked, outside, in the dark. I’m sure being somewhat drunk numbed any insecurities I might otherwise have felt.
Nothing to hide
A couple of weeks later, we did it again. In fact, we became a bit addicted to drunken plunges into the river after a night out; we both discovered how free it felt to be naked. We weren’t shy about it any more and had no qualms about running around the river bank, throwing mud at each other, then splashing about in the river to wash it off. My best mate commented I wouldn’t do this with anyone else, and I knew what he meant; when you’re naked like that there is a vulnerability, but we both trusted each other completely. Getting naked in the river only strengthened our friendship.
A couple of years later I moved to Japan, to teach English. I lived there for three years and immersed myself in Japanese culture. Social nudity is a large part of Japanese life; every neighbourhood has a public bath, in much the same way as everywhere in England has a pub. In fact, the two are not totally dissimilar; in England, you regularly hang out in the pub with family, friends or colleagues, whereas in Japan you do exactly the same thing, only naked together, in a bathhouse*.
*I should add, that men and women are segregated; things aren’t quite that communal.
More about that next time…